Economic Development and Government

Canadian diplomat relishes trade opportunities

May 13, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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With $1.4 million per minute crossing the U.S.-Canadian border, the relationship between the two countries is one of the largest trade partnerships in the world.

Growing up in Sarnia, Ontario, Douglas George saw how important that relationship is and wants to make sure other people do, too.

As the Canadian Consul General in Detroit, George is responsible for Canadian relationships with Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. He was in Grand Rapids last week and took time to speak to the Business Journal following his discussion at the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan.

“I could look out the window and see Michigan; it’s been a part of my personal DNA that this cooperation is a key part to both of our countries to succeed,” George said. “Maybe people who don’t live as close to the border don’t see it the same way and need to be convinced of the value, but it’s there and it’s of great benefit to both.”

George spoke at the World Affairs Council luncheon as an update on policies and objectives of the newly installed government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau and the Liberal Party won by a majority, which according to George was the least likely outcome in the election. The top foreign policy goal for the new prime minister is to refocus on Canadian and U.S. relations, which already has resulted in the first official visit of a Canadian prime minister to the U.S. in more than 20 years.

“He wants to underline the shared history,” George said. “Most of that history has been positive; the last time we were on opposite sides was more than 200 years ago in the War of 1812.”

In 2014, Michigan exported $25.4 billion worth of goods to Canada, more than the next 16 foreign market partners combined. In the Third Congressional District, Canada accounts for 37 percent of exports, including $1.2 billion in agricultural products.

“When you have one of the largest trading relationships in the world, there will always be different approaches, and we have to work together,” he said. “If you get our regulators talking together — not time-to-time regular basis but talking before they finalize regulations so they do the same thing — maybe we start working with each other’s testing results and we get to the point we’re building products and growing foods to one standard and don’t need separate production lines. You’re saving money and are more competitive.”

George said one of the first infrastructure priorities of Trudeau was to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge; 25 percent of trade travels over the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor. Canada is footing the Michigan part of the bill, and George said construction will begin in 2017.

“Michigan is very important to Canada,” George said. “We aren’t in competition; we’re building things together and competing with the rest of the world, and the more efficiently we act, the better. That’s part of why we’re building the bridge. Canada is willing to put its money where its mouth is.”

The partnership between the countries goes beyond separate sovereign nations in George’s mind. He suggested the Great Lakes region — eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces — as an economic entity. The region would be the world’s third-largest economy, according to George, larger than Japan and Germany.

“The economy is so interconnected with complex trade patterns and building things together,” George said. “This is the future. It’s making sure our region can be more functional and competitive.

“The more we work together, the better off we’ll be.”

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